AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas House and Senate have given final approval to a bill that would allow the permitless carry of holstered handguns, sending the measure to Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday.
Abbott has said he would sign the bill. It would make Texas the 19th state to allow handguns to be carried without a permit, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.
House Bill 1927 would allow anyone over the age of 21 who can legally possess a firearm in Texas to carry a handgun in public without a permit. Current state law allows residents 21 or older to carry a handgun only after completing the required training and criminal background check to obtain a license to carry.
Republicans argued that the measure, which they often call “constitutional carry,” appropriately expanded gun rights under the Second Amendment.
Democrats and gun safety advocates criticized the measure, which they say will increase gun violence in Texas and make it easier for criminals to obtain a gun.
Rep. Matt Schaefer, a Tyler Republican and author of the bill, praised a compromise reached between members of the House and Senate over differences in versions of the bill approved in each chamber.
“Ultimately, we came out with a bill that is strong, and no doubt is the strongest restoration of Second Amendment rights that any of us have ever seen in the history of the state of Texas,” Schaefer said.
The House approved the deal in a late night vote Sunday. The Senate approved the changes Monday, sending it to the governor. If Abbott signs the bill, it would go into effect on Sept. 1, 2021.
Sen. Charles Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican who carried the bill in the Senate, said the bill remained strong while still handling the concerns of law enforcement officials.
“This bill, to me, again is a simple restoration of Texans’ constitutional right under the Second Amendment,” he said.
Schaefer also expressed disappointment that the final bill did not leave in a House amendment by Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, which would have prohibited law enforcement officials from stopping a person legally carrying a handgun without cause.
“This chamber unanimously supported that amendment, and we did fight for that amendment in conference,” Schaefer said. “We were unable to keep it on there. I do believe that in time case law will come on our direction on that and this is something that we need to look at.”
The conference committee report, created by five senators and five representatives, left in place another House priority that would allow those previously convicted of unlawfully carrying a handgun in a public place to have the conviction expunged from their record. Another House amendment left in the bill would add limited affirmative defense for those who “just make an honest mistake” in bringing their handgun to certain prohibited places, Schaefer said.
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After some reluctance earlier from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, the chamber included a number of amendments to strengthen the measure for law enforcement, including the removal of House language that banned law enforcement officers from questioning a person solely on their possession of a handgun and stiffer penalties for illegal weapons carried by felons and family violence offenders.
Much of the Senate’s changes were left in the final version, including a provision that would require the Texas Department of Public Safety to create a free, online gun safety course. Business owners also can prohibit guns by posting a sign under the bill.
A license to carry still will be available to Texans who want to be able to carry guns in other states that have reciprocity agreements with Texas. License holders also do not need to have a background check when purchasing guns from a store.
House Democrats criticized the bill before the chamber’s final approval of the compromise Sunday evening, saying the Legislature has yet to pass gun control bills in the aftermath of multiple mass shootings in the state.
“I can’t imagine a worse slap in the face to all those people who have advocated, to the victims, to the families of victims,” Rep. Chris Turner, a Grand Prairie Democrat and chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said.
Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, recalled conversations after the El Paso shooting, where Abbott and Republicans vowed find common ground with Democrats on gun safety measures.
“I heard a lot of promises,” he said. “I haven’t heard them since.”
After back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa, Abbott and Patrick expressed openness to a law that would expand background checks in private firearm sales. Following recommendations from politicians, community leaders, law enforcement, federal officials, business leaders, activists and mass shooting survivors, Abbott released an action plan that backed voluntary background checks and suggested that the Legislature consider ways to make those checks easy and affordable.
Before the Senate’s final vote, Houston Democratic Sen. John Whitmire asked Schwertner: “Are you aware there are a large number of Texas families on both sides of the aisle who are literally afraid of your legislation?”
Schwertner responded that “there’s always concern” when dealing with laws about firearms, but he believes the measure “is an advancement of safety.”
Still, the Legislature has continued to expand access to guns in Texas. Abbott and Patrick have stayed quiet on the issue of background checks since then.
Even on Monday, the Texas House approved a priority gun bill by Patrick that would allow gun owners to bring their firearm into a hotel room.
The House tacked on an amendment that would expand the bills to long guns, not just handguns. The Senate will have to approve the changes or send it to a conference committee to hash out the differences.
- Nicole Cobler, Austin American-Statesman